The Martial Arts Triumvirate

Martial arts really boil down to three governing essentials: offense, defense, and generating force.  The offense and defense parts tie more into what people typically imagine with martial arts training.  They include the training of movements and techniques, i.e. the blocks, strikes, locks, throws, footwork, etc.  Generating force is more related to the physical conditioning necessary for using an art, and usually includes training strength, cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, mobility, etc.  It’s difficult (if not impossible) to be martially proficient without training all three facets.

Although most martial arts training focuses on self-defense, offense and defense are closely interrelated.  Despite its moniker, self-defense still relies on effective offensive skills.  If your offense (whether an initiated attack or a counter attack) poses no threat to the attacker, your ability to defend yourself is diminished as your opponent can freely attack without concern of being himself attacked.  Offense itself can be a type of defense; a well-timed initiated attack can end a confrontation and is a crucial part of learning “defense.”  On the other hand, offense does not exist out of context with defense.  Having a lot of offensive firepower may not help you if your defense is porous.  If you can’t avoid or fend off attacks, you may not even get a chance to use your offensive skills.

For movements to be applicable in the “real world,” there must be some baseline physical conditioning.  The body must be able to produce enough force for the movements to have any effect in offense and defense.  A punch with no power–even with perfect technical execution–is still an ineffective punch.  Deflecting an incoming attack still requires enough strength to engage the attack.  While higher levels of skill can dramatically reduce the amount of force necessary for effectiveness, there’s no escaping the fact that our bodies exist in a physical world and must interact with force.  Conversely, having a strong body and being able to generate force is necessary but not sufficient for martial ability.  Generating absurd amounts of power is still useless if the force cannot be applied within the context of offense and defense.

Studying a martial art as a complete system requires training in offense, defense, and the physical aspects of generating force.  Training just the movements without being able to generate any force leads to pretty but empty movements.  Powerful movement can be impressive, but is still useless if the force cannot be directed correctly.  Like any other pursuit, achieving proficiency in a martial art is a multi-faceted process.  All the pillars must be built up to develop proficiency.